Electrolux is known for its bold and sometimes ridiculous concepts, and the Swedish appliance manufacturer holds a contest every year to encourage young designers to submit their innovative/cockamamie ideas. And this year's finalists? Well, they're just as bonkers as you'd expect.
This year, the focus of the competition was food enjoyment, air purification, and fabric care in urban homes. There are plenty of head-scratchers in the finalists, including way too many concepts that boil down to "Roomba that looks like a plant," plus a plan to replace your refrigerator with a bunch of translucent bubbles floating around your house holding individual food items.
It'd probably be easier to tell you the wackiest nonsense ideas, but there are actually some cool and at least remotely plausible ideas in this year's semifinalist crop. Here are the five most worth watching.
Food spoilage sensors aren't an original concept, but designer Kimberly Schelle makes the idea user-friendly by envisioning the tubes as small and easy-to-read. Freshtag tubes would monitor the texture, colour, and the gasses emitted from food, turning from green to yellow or red as food spoils.
Schelle proposes sensors that people can stick on the outside of their milk cartons or yogurt tubs, that would receive information from the tubes within, so users wouldn't have to look inside all their non-transparent food containers to find out if something had gone bad. Schelle also suggests a customer-feedback system that would help the sensors become more accurate.
A flexible cooking surface that will heat or cool to your exact specifications, the Surphase seems both plausible and like something Oprah would have joyfully given away during a "Favourite Things" episode. Designer Daan Hekking might be on to something, although I'm curious about which material he plans to use that is flexible enough to fold into a temporary oven but is safe to handle and capable of retaining heat. Hekking definitely has his work cut out for him turning this into a reality, but it's a really good idea that seems like it could work. (Anyone disagree? Tell me why I'm wrong in Kinja, I know nothing about thermodynamics.)
The Fabric Pen as described as a concept by designer Ingrida Kazėnaitė has several major obstacles to being a thing that could really exist, but the basic idea behind it is brilliant. Why not have a teensy sewing machine or fabric-binding machine in the shape of a pen?
Kazėnaitė's assertion that such a pen could scan and immediately 3D print fabric registers really high on my Nope-o-meter, but I can see something like this cropping up in the next few years for cotton or polyester clothes, or to stop runs in tights or repair nylon. The idea, once pared down to a workable level, is a product that should already exist.
Exercise generally makes people feel productive and good about themselves. Imagine the satisfaction you'd get riding a stationary bike that purified the air with every push of the pedal. You might get unbearably smug, but it'd feel great. That's the idea behind designer Yuwi Kim's fitness machine/purifier. The concept of a bike/purifier has already been explored by a Bangkok-based design firm, but that was for outdoor bikes to combat street pollution. This would be an at-home system. It's one of the most plausible concepts in the contest that is also interesting, although Kim should probably update the design to include some sort of handlebar, since it seems really easy to topple over as is.
Many of the Electrolux designs are fascinating, but they would never, ever be a thing, at least not in this lifetime. One of the designs this year would rely on teleportation, for instance. Bake.A.Dish doesn't aim as high. It wants to do one thing well: It would make edible bowls and plates out of bread and biscuits.
Designer Saeed Rahiminejad might have one of the more modest designs in the semifinals. But a cute appliance that makes easy bread bowls is something I could see appearing in kitchens soon, so he gets points for making something that could actually go on the market in the next year.